Kopay spent nine seasons in the NFL, including stops with the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints, and San Francisco 49ers, and in 1976 he authored The David Kopay Story, which became a New York Times bestseller. Kopay has been championing gay rights ever since and will visit Trinity University on April 16 for a talk titled “Professional Athletics and the Gay Experience.” Hustle and Flow caught up with Kopay via telephone from his Los Angeles home, where he shared his thoughts on the NFL, John Amaechi, and sexuality.
How do you feel that the NFL, and society overall, has changed since you first came out?
There’s been such tremendous progress from when I spoke out in 1975. Then you had important people from different organizations, press people, people from the National Football League office, instead of condemning the hateful comments out there, they were making the hateful comments. I remember one quote this public-relations director said to me was: ‘A copout, immoral lifestyle of tragic misfits, your colossal goal of attempting to extend your perversions to an area of total manhood is simply unthinkable.’ And I’m just trying to be myself, and be free, and be honest with myself. I thought honesty was something special.
Of course that wasn’t the way it was received then, but certainly now people are starting to pay attention and understand. When you have people like that, straight folks, people understanding the need for inclusion and love, certainly there’s been huge progress and I’m really glad I’ve been able to contribute to a little bit of that.
What did you take away from former NBA player John Amaechi recently speaking out?
I told John, if only I were as articulate then as John is now, I would’ve been so far ahead of the game. I mean, he is very brilliant. To begin with, he had a few strikes against him. He spoke the King’s English as a black man, and that made him different to begin with. And then, he was so totally articulate that that made him a little more different too. So, John is able to articulate things so much better than I was in this stage in the game. He’s had some experiences that are certainly different than mine but it contributes to all of society.
I really think diversity is our strength, look how this country is formed. It formed on the backs of a million different nationalities and people, races, everything. So I think diversity and John being a black fellow is certainly a plus in terms of him coming out because to me it’s much more difficult for a black fellow to come out than a white fellow. There’s supposedly a super masculinity and all those myths that are involved there.”
Any thoughts on Tim Hardaway? `Hardaway recently drew criticism for publicly bragging about his homophobia.`
He’s just an ignorant fellow. Tim Hardaway really represents himself. He’s really not representing the whole of basketball players and certainly there are players like that. There are players with his mentality or lack of awareness and his homophobic and hateful remarks. I just don’t understand that. Love doesn’t have a gender. Why should one love be more celebrated than another?
Do you think we’re close to seeing an out-of-the-closet superstar athlete in one of the big three sports and what impact do you think that would have?
People say that if someone, like a Shaquille O’Neal, who has been so positively supportive of gay folks, if someone of his athletic ability came out, it would change everything. Well John Amaechi has said this too. He said people really think that if they have seen the images of Matthew Shepherd beaten and strung up on a fence in Wyoming, that some superstar athlete coming out and saying they were gay would change that many different people’s attitudes. I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think it certainly would make some of the more shallow people think. But I think sexuality, there’s some people in the middle, it’s a
You’re not 100-percent heterosexual; you’re not 100-percent homosexual. Certainly your needs and desires are related to how you fall on that fulcrum. I certainly functioned as a heterosexual man. I think we need to stop pigeon-holing people as ‘gay’ but certainly we have to keep using those labels until all the hate is gone away.